Magazine changes aplenty

We’ve had some fairly significant changes with Ohio State Alumni Magazine over the past few months.

In September, our longtime editor Lynne Bonenberger retired. Having Lynne leave was a huge loss for us. Under her leadership, the magazine was recognized numerous times for excellence.  Lynne’s curiosity, keen editing eye and ability to make a pretty good story a great one made the magazine a quality publication. She will be missed, although we are hopeful to keep her involved with the magazine in a freelance writing capacity.

In October, we were pleased to welcome Mary Alice Casey as our new editor. Mary Alice joins us from the Ohio Attorney General’s office where she served as senior editor. She also brings experience in higher ed, having worked at Ohio University as its magazine editor nearly 10 years. Mary Alice is thrilled to have an opportunity to help our magazine expand on its strong base. She has strong family ties to this institution and a great appreciation of what the magazine means to our alumni and friends.

The first edition that bears Mary Alice’s name is our November edition, which is nearing completion. This edition will also adebut the re-design we’ve been working on since early May. My colleague Rick Harrison and I will present a UC Academy on the re-design project next Tuesday. We hope to see you there.

A new (old) look for onCampus

Readers of onCampus will note that today’s edition has a slightly different look.

We’ve redesigned the front page, moving from a single image and story to a design that allows us to feature multiple stories. The onCampus logo, fonts and other design elements have also been freshened up to bring the publication more in line with Ohio State’s overall brand standards.

I don’t think that any of us would claim that these are groundbreaking moves. Longtime readers of onCampus will remember that we had a straight news approach in the past before moving to a more feature-oriented style that focused on one story. And we will still use the single image in the future when the story and art dictate that type of play. But taking this approach gives us more opportunities to highlight news and some of the online content being generated by our multimedia team.

In addition to the change to the cover, we have four open pages in the center of the newspaper devoted to our special report on new President Michael V. Drake’s arrival at Ohio State. In-depth feature packages like this one are something we expect to be a more regular part of onCampus in the coming year. Taking in a deeper dive into some of the more important Ohio State stories presents a lot of opportunities both for us and for our collaborative partners around the university.

The overall changes have required some adjustments from our team  so I credit onCampus staff members Jeff McCallister and Adam King for the heavy lifting required to implement our new approach from a content standpoint. Rick Harrison from the brand and marketing team provided the overall publication design refresh.

Going forward we’ll continue to tweak, refine and seek ways to improve our look and feel. We welcome any feedback you have on the changes that rolled out today.

What makes a good magazine feature?

My colleague Kristen Convery recently shared a post that outlines what her team looks for when determining stories. There was a lot of good stuff in there and it got me thinking about what makes a good story for Ohio State Alumni Magazine.

Before I go further I’ll say that many items Kristen mentioned apply perfectly to what we’d seek in a good magazine feature. All of our stories should advance awareness of the great academic and research achievements happening on campus as well as supporting the university’s national reputation. We aren’t doing our job if we don’t share that type of content with readers.

But there are some areas where a print publication that’s delivered six times a year is going to be naturally different than a digital platform. With that said, I’ll move onto three items we consider when deciding if a story is a good fit for the magazine.

  • Broad appeal: The magazine audience is as widely varied as you will find. Our readers come from every college and major and graduated in many different decades. To that end, we are always looking for stories that have broad appeal and matter to people of varied backgrounds. When considering stories I often ask the question, “If I had no connection to Ohio State, is this a story I would be interested in?” If the answer is yes, then that’s a good sign we may have a winner on our hands.
  • Results matter: A story that can clearly illustrate positive outcomes from a university effort is going to merit consideration. We live in a results-oriented society, so any time we can show how the university’s work is producing positive and quantifiable results it’s a plus. And tying back to broad appeal, the more wide-ranging the impact the better.
  • Take them back: Alumni magazine readers by and large have favorable memories of their times on campus. A recent magazine reader survey indicated that two of the most popular reader topics are institutional history and traditions and campus facilities and growth. Simply put, readers love it when the magazine can be a vehicle that transports them back to campus and reminds them of their time here. As a rule, we want the magazine to be forward looking, but with an alumni audience we’d be ignoring the obvious if we don’t look back every now and then.

Those are some of the items we consider when evaluating a story’s potential for inclusion in the magazine. With all of that said, there is no exact formula for what is going to be in each edition. Sometimes you get a great idea that doesn’t fit the above criteria but is interesting enough on its own that it merits a story. And you also want to keep your readers surprised and guessing, so zagging when they expect a zig can have some value, too. As long as you are keeping the readers’ interest at the forefront of your decisions, you really can’t go wrong.

Our readers have spoken

A few weeks ago I mentioned we were in the process of conducting a survey of Ohio State Alumni Magazine readers. The survey itself (which was conducted using the CASE magazine survey template) is just another piece of the groundwork we’re doing to set the foundation for the overall magazine re-design scheduled for completion in November.

I want to emphasize the survey is just one piece of information we are considering as we examine ways to make the magazine better. No one piece of data is going to entirely direct our thinking, because it’s important to assess a wide range of inputs before moving forward. And I think that survey results can be misleading in some cases. From my time in newspapers I know that what readers say they want in a survey does not always square with reader behavior measured by pageviews to particular stories. So the proverbial grain of salt is in play here.

With that said, it is always good to take the temperature of your readership to see where they say they stand. We had 1,229 respondents, 59 percent male and 41 percent female. The age of participants skewed to the older end with 75 percent of respondents aged 50 or older. To take a closer look at some information from the survey, you can review a presentation I shared Wednesday with our UC editorial staff: OSAM readership survey.

I don’t believe we discovered anything terribly earth-shattering in the results. Readers generally have a favorable view of the magazine and think it is fairly objective when reporting on the university. There were a few items that did pique my interest, however.

In the quantitative portion of the survey many readers indicated they are interested in coverage of athletics. However in the qualitative portion many felt that there is too much athletics coverage. Our recent magazine content audit indicates that athletic content makes up less than 10 percent of all content, so perception may differ from reality here. It’s also possible that readers are taking ads into consideration when assessing overall content, and many ads that appear in the magazine have an athletic theme.

Another piece of info that was interesting to me is that more than 85 percent of respondents said they are very or somewhat interested in content that covers the changing landscape of higher education. I’ve always felt this type of story was more internal than external, but many in our audience want this type of information. This makes some sense since many of our readers likely have kids or grandkids who want to attend college some day. In that regard, I’ve adjusted my thinking on our coverage. It isn’t navel gazing, but instead practical and useful news that has a real-life influence on peoples’ lives. Color me better informed.

The survey itself gives us a nice snapshot of our readership and will be helpful going forward. If you’re interested in taking a look at the full report, just contact me via email and I’d be happy to share.

Writing about LASERs

The May/June edition of Ohio State Alumni Magazine is scheduled for a mail drop today, which means folks in central Ohio should begin receiving their magazines very soon.

The cover feature in this edition focuses on Ohio State’s Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research (LASER) program. The LASER program was established in 2009 by Ohio State director of Latino studies Luis Aldama, a recipient of the university’s 2014 Distinguished Scholar Award. The story focuses on the student success being created by this academically rigorous program, and how mentors and young people are both benefitting from the program’s scope. One LASER program mentor and mentee, Guadalupe Medina, is featured in our magazine cover image:

MJ14 OSAM cover_Page_01

In addition to the LASER feature we feature Ohio State food scientist Monica Giusti is featured, alums Peter McGraw (a humor researcher at the University of Colorado) and Ram Mohan (owner of Reynoldsburg’s Avian Health Clinic), and Ohio State’s top-scholar athletes, among others.

We are already deep into work on the July/August edition. That cover feature will take a close look at how the university’s North Residential District will help further ensure student retention and success. It will also give us a chance to allow alums to look back and share stories about their experiences in Ohio State residence halls. Well, at least the stories that are a fit for a family publication.

Buckeye Voices: From the web to the page

Late last year, University Communications launched Buckeye Voices, a blog for commentary from Ohio State’s thought leaders. The early feedback has been positive. People have said nice things.

The blog is off to a good start, but we’ll continue to seek ways to help it evolve and remain a destination spot for people seeking commentary from the Ohio State community. A first step in the evolution is to integrate the blog into our print publications. Many of our pubs, most notably Ohio State Alumni Magazine, have long been carriers of opinions from university leaders, alumni and friends. Beginning with our May/June edition, the commentary space has been re-worked to share a closer kinship with the Buckeye Voices blog. Take a look (click to enlarge):


One of our challenges in this web to print conversion is to keep the magazine space from becoming the blog’s older and stodgier sibling. Striking imagery (I’d say John Glenn is striking) is one way to make that happen. Another is to use the magazine as a space to drive traffic to the blog and to solicit ideas that we can use on the web, in print or both.

Further developing the print presence of Buckeye Voices will be top-of-mind as we tackle the redesigns of onCampus and our giving magazine, Leaders’ Impact. Ohio State’s thought leaders have important things to say and it’s our job to make sure those messages are amplified in every possible way.